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Inside Innovation: New innovations address worksite safety, efficiency and the skilled labour shortage

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: New innovations address worksite safety, efficiency and the skilled labour shortage

It’s a period of exciting innovation in the construction industry, ranging from the increased digitization of project management, to four-legged robotic dogs that conduct 3D site scanning.

Worksite safety continues to be an important innovation driver as well. For example, Doosan Infracore recently announced what is being called a “transparent” bucket that allows a front loader operator to see through the massive steel rectangle that normally obscures the front view in the cab.

Of course, it’s a technology trick, not an actual transparent bucket, but the effect is the same. Using a series of sensors and cameras installed at the top and bottom of the loader, Doosan’s patent-pending curved projection technology projects a composite image onto a monitor in the operator’s cab. The load inside the bucket is also seen as the machine operates as well as any workers in front of the machine.

Doosan says it is the first company to develop and apply front projection to construction machinery. In addition, Doosan is incorporating other safety features, such as an AVM (around-view monitor) system to capture the equipment’s immediate surroundings and ultrasonic sensors to alert operators about people or obstacles behind the machine.

It’s not an entirely new idea, however. The same concept of multiple rear view projection can be found on new models of GMC Sierra HD pickup trucks. In this case, up to 15 cameras provide a surround-view of the bed and trailer, offering an entirely new level of towing safety. In fact, Land Rover presented their Discovery Vision concept more than five years ago, giving drivers a view through the bonnet of the vehicle as well as directly behind the trailer.

Of course, the continued development of exoskeletons, robots and co-bots on the worksite is always fun to observe.

One automated device now in use is the drywall finishing robot developed by Canvas Technology of Boulder, Clol., owned by Amazon. The compact, four-wheeled machine uses laser scanners and a robotic arm to smooth rough drywall board surfaces. It then sprays drywall compound on the walls and ceilings in a dust-free sanding system. A human “navigates the robot to the specific location onsite and sets the parameters of the work to be completed,” the company says, adding individual operators do not need extensive drywall or robot operation experience.

Canvas says the result is “unrivalled quality, speed, and predictability by putting robots in the hands of skilled workers,” further claiming the resultant finished work is consistently Level 5+ and can reduce typical finishing time from seven down to two days.

Canvas’ dry walling robot has been used on projects across the United States, such as the Harvey Milk Terminal at the San Francisco International Airport.

Similar robotic devices are seen as answers to the industry’s need for efficiency improvements throughout the building process and the shortage of skilled labour projected for the future.

As a result, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and computer vision incorporated into worksite machinery is moving ahead continuously, making its way onto jobsites. Robotic devices offered by several companies can now do more than just roam sites and scan in 3D. Autonomous vehicles can move building materials around a site. Remote or autonomous excavation machinery and robotic equipment can take on repetitive tasks like grading and bricklaying.

In fact, the International Data Corporation, a provider of technological and communications expertise, says in their 2020 report that overall annual spending growth on robotics within construction will be perhaps the fastest among several industries, predicting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.8 per cent.

How will the labour force react? Somewhat surprisingly, some worker unions have expressed support for these developments. Speaking about the Canvas dry wall robot in particular, one representative told ars technica, “It’s critical for skilled workers to have great resources in their tool kit, and we are excited to be on the leading edge of technology in our industries by partnering with Canvas.”

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

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